Gone but not Forgotten

He was healthy, handsome, and would have made someone a good companion. But because he was somewhat older, nobody seemed to want the dun-colored little chihuahua mix with the big brown eyes. So he was passed over, again and again, by folks who mostly wanted younger, sportier models.

This was not his first rodeo. Twice before he had been surrendered by his owners and returned to the shelter where was born. His most recent owner had simply abandoned him to the streets, where he led a perilous existence until some kindhearted person scooped him up and brought him back. So once again he was put up for adoption. But he was no longer young and cute, so he lingered, ignored and unwanted.

The long months in a small cage in that crowded noisy, stress-filled place were wearing on him. From his cage he could see others leaving, day after day. One by one they went, bounding joyously out the front door to new lives with new owners. But no one ever came for him. He was beginning to look like a hopeless case.

Jabba, they called him, after the grotesquely villainous Star Wars character. It was an ironic handle, like a really big guy nicknamed “Tiny.” To give Jabba a boost the Humane Society named him Pet of the Month, and featured him on their website and in their mailouts. Agility champion; little guy with a big personality, that sort of thing. One of the mailouts made its way to Carolyn, my better half, who knew that I was in the market for a dog for my mom, whose beloved chow had recently died.

At nine and a half years, Jabba was about the right age for mom, then in her mid-80s. They’d probably both go at about the same time, or so we thought. And a small dog made more sense for an old person. So a meeting at the facility on the north side of town was scheduled.

You meet with your canine candidate in a glass booth in the center of the facility, under the watchful eye of an attendant, surrounded by cages and more cages of dogs awaiting adoption, who greet every incoming visitor with a cascade of yips and yelps and howls and yowls. Pick me! Pick me!

The initial meeting wasn’t exactly promising. Hardened by a year or more of life on the mean streets followed by months in a small cage in that depressing place, Jabba was a jittery mess. I moved to pet him and he snapped at me and snarled a warning. The attendant saw this and grimaced. She had seen it happen before, and knew that the interview was now most likely over before it had even begun.

But something about the little guy spoke to me, so I raised a hand as if to say, It’s OK, and gave Jabba another chance. I slid a short distance away to give him some space, let a few moments of silence pass, and then began speaking to him him in a soft, non-threatening voice, all the while avoiding direct eye contact. In seconds flat his shields came down. He concluded that I was OK, and without missing a beat crawled into my lap, where he gazed up at me as if seeking answers. Without so much as a word being spoken, volumes passed between us. After a few minutes, the attendant asked, Would you like to visit with another dog? and seemed surprised when I said No, this one’ll do just fine.

So I slipped a leash around Jabba’s neck, and we headed over to the front desk to fill out various forms and pay various fees, edging ever closer to the front door and freedom as we went. As this was unfolding the little dog’s attitude visibly shifted, from neutral through hopeful to ecstatic, as the realization dawned that he was about to be done with this place forever. Without prompting, he leaped into my truck, trembling with excitement. All the way over to mom’s house he sat in my lap, gazing with rapt wonder at the world beyond the window.

Carolyn had thoughtfully gotten Jabba a comfy dog bed and stocked it with toys. The moment we walked through the door, he spotted it and made a beeline. Instantly understanding its purpose, Jabba straightaway made himself right at home. With obvious deliberation, he looked around the room, taking it all in, as the understanding sank in that his fortunes had radically changed for the better.

But mom was not much for ironic names, and who the hell was “Jabba” anyway? So Jabba became Jimmy. And he was just fine with it.

Mom and Jimmy were a good fit. She was old and slow while Jimmy was low maintenance and not in any particular hurry either. He kept the squirrels in line and the wolves at bay, and gave mom someone to talk to when she was bored. The years passed pleasantly.

But life happens when you make other plans. Mom died unexpectedly, years too soon, when a minor problem went untreated and became a major one. So Jimmy ended up with me. I had hosted him numerous times over the years, sometimes for weeks at a stretch, so it wasn’t a difficult transition. He took easily to his new role as Emergency Backup Shop Dog.

By this time he was well up in years. But Jimmy was blessed with natural youthfulness, so you wouldn’t know it to look at him. People were invariably flabbergasted to find that he was 16, 17, 18 years old.

A couple of months ago, Jimmy began losing weight. An inveterate eat-to-live type, he had always been picky and indifferent at mealtime. But this pattern intensified, and getting him to take nourishment gradually became a daily struggle. Just when you thought you had found the magic, surefire formula, he lost interest, so you had to try something else. The pantry and refrigerator filled up with various savory offerings. Don’t want that? How about this?

I wasn’t overly worried because old critters, humans included, eat less as their metabolisms slow down. And Jimmy’s arthritis had lately gotten worse; the pain it generated could potentially have been affecting his appetite. We put him on a pain medication called rimadyl, with near-miraculous results. His appetite and energy level soared. It was like rolling the clock back 5 years. In just a couple of days he visibly gained weight.

But the effect was short-lived, and after just a few days he began to fade rapidly. When he refused the daily walk along the brook behind the shop one day, I knew something was seriously amiss. A trip to the vet confirmed my worst fears: Cancer of the gut. Prognosis: Fatal and soon. Ironically, his recent burst of activity had probably triggered the final meltdown. Worst of all, the end stage was likely to be very painful and frightening. “Not a good way to go,” said Dr. Scroggins. It was the weekend, though, and everyone who didn’t charge a fortune was booked until Tuesday or Wednesday. I wasn’t confident he would last that long.

But Providence blessed us both. Aided by a dose of painkillers, Jimmy slipped into a coma and died quietly, without a struggle, at about 9:45 in the evening, yesterday, April 27 2024, after a lifetime of eighteen years, two months and seventeen days. A pretty good run any way you look at it. He goes to join the long line of dogs I have known and loved in my life, who have blessed me with their company for a time, sometimes long, sometimes not. But never long enough.

There’s upside, of course; there always is. The worry, the fear, the dread of what’s coming have been rendered moot. There is one less mouth to feed. No more getting up at 2 am to let him out. But in truth if I could magically trade years of my own life for dog years, I would. When you love creatures that don’t live nearly as long as you do, you lose them regularly. It hurts like bloody hell, every time, and never, ever gets any easier.

If I ever get the chance to meet God, I’m going to ask Her “why?” Why gift us with these magnificent companions, so very alive, so very nearly perfect, only to yank them away after a few short years, leaving an aching void where once there was light and life?

 

© 2024 by Scott P. Snell
Right of reuse is freely granted with proper attribution.

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